PASSPORT TO SUCCESS MAPPED OUT FOR HANDY

There’s a lot to be said for pester power. Chantelle Handy’s persistence has taken her to the brink of 50 appearances for Great Britain. And she’s not done asking for more, not yet.

There are those for whom good things just happen. Then there are others who give fate a solid prod in the ribs and seize control of their own destinies. Aged just 16, Handy gazed into her future and actively sought out a path which might fulfil her hopes and dreams.

A talented teenager in her native Durham, she had progressed through the age-group ranks, already holding her own against females twice her age. Still, it wasn’t quite sufficient. There had got to be, she thought, another way.

‘Why don’t I move to the USA?’ she asked her mother. The plan had already been hatched: head to high school across the Atlantic and see what lay in store. “She wasn’t very happy about it when I made the decision at 16 to go,” Handy recalls of her parental plea.

“But she knew it was the best thing for me. There weren’t opportunities like this in England so she wasn’t going to say no. They’ve been a great support in letting me do what I needed to do to get where I am today.

“I’d done high school. I thought: ‘will I go to college?’ I’d been playing for a few years, enjoying the game and I wanted to move on and do it better. I saw it as a great opportunity to go to the States where basketball is huge. It was a great move for me.”

Handy has exploded this year (Dan Wooller)

She landed a spot at Mount de Chantal Academy in West Virginia, a prep school which has a well-regarded prep programme. There was inevitable homesickness. The desire to blend in.

That, she explains, is why her speaks now with a distinctly American accent rather than the Durham patois. She laughs. “I don’t sound like I’m from there, do I?”

It took just a few days in the playground to disappear, she recounts. “It won’t come back either. I go home for a few days and a few words creep in but that’s about it.”

The twang is a lasting memento of a spell abroad in which Handy flourished. After four years at Marshall University, Handy headed for Greece last autumn to join Aris for what proved to be an awkward initiation into the pros. “I got to play Euro Cup, where we travelled all over Europe to play. That was a great experience. I played against some big time players.”

There was a parting of the ways mid-season but quickly, an offer came from Slovakian team, MBK Ruzomberok. Her new side went all the way to the domestic finals, their English recruit relishing the competition but needing to quickly adjust.

“A lot of the girls spoke a little English and the coach didn’t speak much at all,” she confirms.

“There was a culture shock but you learn to adapt. You kind of know what’s what anyway. We had a translator for games which was OK. But in practice every day, I wouldn’t say it was a struggle but it was an unusual situation.”

The learning process has served her well. Handy will, according to official records, win her 50th cap in Wednesday’s friendly against Slovakia. Then, a day later, also her 24th birthday, it will be off to Poland for the Eurobasket finals, safe in the knowledge that her vastly improved game has made her an integral part of Tom Maher’s rotation.

According to the Australian, additional aggression that has been uncovered. Consistency has been another evident trait.

“I think maturity and experience,” Handy offers by way of embellishment. “This was my first year out (of college) this year, playing overseas, playing with big-time players, learning new things, trying to adapt to new coaches sand different programmes.

“You mature as you go on with the experience that you get. I’ve become more consistent. I still have a lot to improve on. But that’s one area where I’ve improved a lot.”

GB, in its first-ever major finals, will need to acquire more valuable insights with one eye on next year’s Olympic Games. Let’s not think too far ahead, Handy underlines. A first round exit would see Maher’s side head home by next Tuesday. Having prepared for six weeks, traversing Europe, that would barely satisfy.

“We want to go in there and compete,” she states. “We’ve done all this work over the last few years and we’ve developed and proved ourselves. So we want to go into there and compete and show countries that we are a team that they need to watch out for and respect.”

It will be a stern test, she knows. Another leg on the journey for one and all. Then again, Handy didn’t leave friends and family behind once upon a time to seek out a life more ordinary.

“It is a huge challenge,” she adds. “Czech Republic’s one of the top four teams in the world. But we’re going to go and try to compete.

“We’ve been working hard and working together. Tom’s put in some things to help us get through. We’re definitely going in there to compete and not to be shown up.”

A Handy trait indeed.

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